New preprint: The effects of diglossia and bidialectalism on cognition

Alrwaita, N., Houston-Price, C., & Pliatsikas, C (2020): The effects of using two variants of one language on cognition: Evidence from bidialectalism and diglossia.

To access, click here


The question of whether and how bilingualism affects domain general cognition has been extensively debated. Less attention has been paid to the cognitive abilities of speakers of different variants of the same language, in linguistic situations such as bidialectalism and diglossia. Similarly to the bilingual situation, in bidialectalism and diglossia speakers need to use only one variant of the language in a given context. However, these situations provide fewer opportunities for mixing or switching between the variants, potentially leading to different domain general cognitive outcomes than those reported in bilingualism. Here we review the available evidence on the effects of bidialectalism and diglossia on cognition, and evaluate it in relation to theories of the effects of bilingualism on cognition. We conclude that investigations of bilingualism, bidialectalism and diglossia must take into account the conversational context and, in particular, the opportunities for language switching that this affords

PhD studentships in Language Sciences at the University of Reading

The School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences at the University of Reading is inviting applicants for PhD studentships in the language sciences. Research in the school covers work in psycholinguistics and neurolinguistics, language development, bi-/multilingualism, and language disorders. We are looking for students interested in pursuing PhD projects along these broad themes. Successful applicants will have full access to facilities within the School, which include eye-tracking, TMS, EEG and MRI, and will become members of the various labs and research centres across the School and university. This includes the Psycholinguistics and Neurolinguistics Lab and the Acquired Brain and Communication Disorders Lab within the School, and the Centre for Literacy and Multilingualism and the Centre for Integrative Neuroscience and Neurodynamics across the university. A number of PhD studentships are currently available for study beginning in October 2021, as described below.

SeNNS Doctoral Training Partnership

The University of Reading is part of the ESRC funded SeNSS Doctoral Training Partnership which awards studentships for either 3-year PhD study, or combined MSc/PhD study involving a 1-year MSc followed by 3-year PhD. These studentships are open to UK and international applicants, and cover fees at the UK rate, and a yearly stipend. International students must be able to make up the difference between UK and international fees. Eligibility for UK applicants is defined as being a UK national, have settled or pre-settled status, or have indefinite leave to remain. All other applicants will be treated as international. Interested applicants should contact with an expression of interest by December 11th, 2020. 

Magdalen Vernon Studentship

The School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences also offers the Magdalen Vernon Studentship. This is a 4-year PhD award that covers UK fees and provides a graduate teaching assistantship. International students are welcome to apply if they are able to make up the difference between UK and international fees. The deadline for applications is December 11th, 2020.

University International Research Studentships

The University of Reading also offers 3-year studentships to (non-UK) international students. This year, International Research Studentships will be awarded on either a fees + stipend basis, or on a fees-only basis. The deadline for applications for International Studentships is January 11th, 2021.

Further information on all schemes is available via the university’s Graduate School Website. Interested applicants should contact the School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences at to register their interest in applying. Interested applicants should also contact potential supervisors at Reading (see staff list within the School here) to discuss their proposal and application.

Proudly presenting… Dr Toms Voits!

Please join me in congratulating newly minted Dr Toms Voits for having just defended his PhD viva. And did I say that no corrections were required?

Congratulations Toms!

Given the circumstances, we cannot celebrate this achievement properly; in lieu of that, I am sharing here an older photo showing how Toms must be feeling right now!

New pre-print: The effects of bilingualism on the structure of the hippocampus and on memory performance in ageing bilinguals

Voits, T., Robson, H., Rothman, J., & Pliatsikas, C. (2020). The effects of bilingualism on the structure of the hippocampus and on memory performance in ageing bilinguals.

To access, click here


Long-term management of more than one language has been suggested to lead to changes in cognition and the brain. This is particularly documented in older age, where bilingualism is associated with protective effects against decline, for example, affording compensation for symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease leading to delayed diagnosis relative to non-bilinguals. Herein, we focus on potential bilingualism effects in the hippocampus, a brain structure related to memory that is particularly vulnerable to cognitive ageing. Hippocampal volume has been shown to increase as a result of second language learning and use in younger adults. However, we do not know if this is maintained over the lifespan, that is, what the long-term effects might be examined in ageing. Herein, we examine hippocampal volume and performance in episodic memory tasks in healthy ageing long-term bilinguals compared to monolinguals. Results show greater hippocampal volume for the bilinguals, which was correlated to individual-level quantified use of the two languages. Thus, our results mirror that of immersive active bilingualism in younger populations. No significant effects of bilingualism were reported on episodic memory task performance. Our findings suggest that long-term active bilingualism leads to neuroprotective effects in the hippocampus, which we discuss in the context of the proposed bilingualism-induced brain reserve in older age literature.

Online Conference on Multilingualism 2020- Register now for free!

The next Conference on Multilingualism 2020 (COM2020) will be hosted by the Centre for Literacy and Multilingualism (CeLM) at the University of Reading (UK) from the 23rd to the 25th of June 2020. Given the evolving worldwide COVID-19 situation we have decided to host COM2020 online and free for registered colleagues to attend.

The conference explores all aspects of multilingualism in the fields of linguistics, psychology, neurology, sociology, and educational sciences. We particularly welcome papers that address issues related to the five CeLM themes: Language and Literacy, Education, Neuroscience, Health and Migration.

We are very pleased to announce our keynote speakers:

Rowena Kasprowicz (University of Reading)

Joao Verissimo (University of Potsdam)

Minna Lehtonen  (University of Oslo)

The conference programme is now available to download here


The conference will take place in the form of a Zoom webinar and is now FREE OF CHARGE. However, we ask you to please register using this link.

Please note that only registered attendees will receive the link to access the webinar.

Our colleagues at the University of Massachusetts have done a great job of hosting CUNY online in March, and we have decided to follow a similar format for COM2020. To get an idea on how the conference will be set up, you can take a look here.


The Conference on Multilingualism has its origin in 2005 at the University of Trento, where it was known under the name of “Workshop on Bilingualism”. In 2016, the conference was renamed to “Conference on Multilingualism” in order to include a broader range of aspects of multilingualism. It is aimed at exploring the many different aspects of multilingualism in the fields of linguistics, psychology, neurology, sociology and educational sciences. In the past, it was held in Ghent and in Leiden. In 2020, it is coming to Reading!


Scientific Committee

Vicky Chondrogianni (University of Edinburgh)

Alice Foucart (Nebrija University)

Tanja Kupish (University of Konstanz)

Theo Marinis (University of Konstanz)

Robert Hartsuiker (University of Ghent)

Petros Karatsareas (Westminster University)

Merel Keijzer (University of Groningen)

Niels Schiller (Leiden University)


Local organising committee

Fraibet Aveledo

Arpita Bose

Ian Cunnings

Christos Pliatsikas

Ludovica Serratrice

Anna Wolleb


Home to 19000 students from over 150 countries, the University of Reading celebrated its 90th anniversary in 2016 and is a world-leading research-intensive university, where 98% of research is internationally recognized and 78% is classed as internationally excellent. In recent years, The University of Reading had gained a global presence with the launch of the Henley Business School (South Africa) in Johannesburg and the University of Reading Malaysia in Iskandar.



Researchers at the Centre for Literacy and Multilingualism (CeLM) conduct, coordinate, and disseminate interdisciplinary research in linguistics, psychology, education, modern languages and classics. CeLM’s mission is to be recognised as an internationally renowned hub for research into linguistic, psychological, clinical and educational aspects of literacy and multilingualism. CeLM researchers have a strong commitment to engage with the general public, with NGOs, and with education and healthcare professionals to bridge the gap between research and practice and bring direct benefits to society beyond academia.




Twitter #COM2020

Don’t miss this year’s public Fairbrother lecture on bilingualism, ageing and the brain, at the University of Reading!

Thrilled to announce that our own Toms Voits has been selected to deliver the University of Reading 2020 Fairbrother lecture! The Fairbrother Lecture is a prestigious annual event where a single doctoral researcher from the University is selected to present their research to the general public. This year Toms will talk about his PhD research, focusing on the effects of bilingualism on the ageing brain (see below for a summary of the talk).  

So don’t miss this public event, due to take place on May the 12th, 7 pm, at the University of Reading! This public event is free but booking required, so make sure to secure your tickets. For more info, and to book your free ticket, click here.


Language is frequently in the headlines, from worries about people speaking too many languages or too few, to questions of whether bilingualism protects against cognitive decline in later life. Bilingualism has featured prominently in language debates, with stories often over-simplifying a more complex picture.

Cut to the heart of recent research on brain and language. Follow researcher Toms Voits on a journey through the uniqueness and complexity of the human brain’s capacity for language. This public lecture will introduce the ways in which two or more languages co-habit within a single mind, the processing issues of co-operation and competition between languages which arise from that, and the much-debated effects of bilingualism on mind and brain. With a focus on research on bilingualism in older adults, the lecture will examine some of the complexities that need to be unpicked in order to understand relationships between ageing, cognitive health and language.

New pre-print: Bilingualism and brain development


Pliatsikas, C., Meteyard, L., Veríssimo, J., DeLuca, V., Shattuck, K., & Ullman, MT. (2020): The effect of bilingualism on brain development from early childhood to young adulthood

To access. click here


Bilingualism affects the structure of the brain in adults. This is indicated by experience-dependent gray and white matter changes in brain structures implicated in language learning, processing, or control. However, limited evidence exists on how bilingualism may influence brain development. We examined the developmental trajectories of both grey and white matter structures in a cross-sectional study of a large sample (N=711 for grey matter, N=637 for white matter) of bilingual and monolingual participants, aged 3-21 years. Metrics of grey matter (thickness, volume, surface area) and white matter (fractional anisotropy, mean diffusivity) were examined across 41 cortical and subcortical brain structures and 20 tracts, respectively. We used generalised additive modelling to analyse whether, how, and where the developmental trajectories of bilinguals and monolinguals might differ. Bilingual and monolingual participants manifested distinct developmental trajectories in both gray and white matter structures. As compared to monolinguals, bilinguals showed: a) more gray matter (less developmental loss) starting during late childhood and adolescence, mainly in frontal and parietal regions (particularly in inferior frontal gyrus pars opercularis, superior frontal cortex, inferior and superior parietal cortex, and the precuneus); and b) higher white matter integrity (greater developmental increase) starting during mid-late adolescence, specifically in striatal-inferior frontal fibers. The data suggest that there may be a developmental basis to the well-documented structural differences in the brain between bilingual and monolingual adults.

New paper on methods for studying language acquisition in the brain, in System

Luk, G., Pliatsikas, C., & Rossi, E. (2020): Brain changes associated with language development and learning: A primer on methodology and applications. To appear in System

To access, click here


Brain plasticity associated with second language acquisition and learning has been a focus of research in the past two decades. Recent research on cognitive neuroscience has enriched current understanding on the neurological underpinning of second language learning. Beyond behavioral findings, examining brain functions and structures provides a biological explanation of how language acquisition (as a natural experience) and learning (as an active skill and knowledge acquisition process) shapes the human brain. Together, combining cognitive neuroscience methods and second language acquisition and learning has offered an opportunity for cross-disciplinary collaboration. To facilitate cross-disciplinary understanding and potential research collaboration, this review paper aims to provide an overview of the major cognitive neuroscience methodologies adopted to study second language acquisition and learning. A selection of empirical studies covers second language acquisition in developing children, bilingualism as a naturally-occurring experience, and short-term second language learning in laboratory settings. Brain structural (diffusion tensor imaging, DTI; and voxel-based morphometry, VBM) and functional (electroencephalography, EEG; and event-related potentials, EPRs) methods are briefly discussed with suggested further readings. The paper ends with future directions using these methodologies to explore brain changes in response to second language teaching and learning experience.

Kick-starting 2020 with a few talks!

The new year has just started, and our lab is already busy with several talks this week! Specifically:

-Christos will deliver a talk at the Ringvorlesung Multilingual Mind at the Department of Linguistics, University of Konstanz, on Tuesday 7/1 at 5 pm. The title will be “The effects of bilingualism on brain structure

-Toms will present a paper at the Experimental Psychology Society (EPS) London meeting on Thursday 9/1 at 12.00. The title of the paper will be “The effects of bilingualism on the structure of the hippocampus and on memory performance in ageing bilinguals

-Toms will also give a talk at the annual conference of the Association for Science Education on Saturday 11/1 at 14.00 . The title of the talk will be “Effects of bilingualism on healthy ageing and dementia

See you there!